Canadians leave today for dangers of Kabul mission
Date: Wednesday, August 06 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
The first Canadian infantrymen leave today on a six-month mission to Afghanistan, the largest and potentially most dangerous operation the Canadian army has undertaken in decades, and their commander says the troops are going into Kabul ready for anything.
Lt.-Col. Don Denne, the commander of the 700-strong Canadian battle group, will lead the first 140 soldiers from the Royal Canadian Regiment and the Royal Canadian Dragoons onto a plane bound for the Afghan capital.
"This is the first of the fighting element," he said yesterday in an interview from CFB Petawawa, Ont. "They're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to get to work."
Lt.-Col. Denne's troops will be the "teeth" of the 1,900 Canadian soldiers joining the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul for the first of two six-month tours in the troubled Asian nation.
More than 800 Canadians have already arrived in Afghanistan, but they have been support, communications or headquarters troops.
The deployment is the largest undertaken by the Canadian Forces since a brigade was sent to Germany to serve with NATO forces in the 1950s, and critics have said it will tax our hard-pressed army to the breaking point.
The mission, code-named Operation Athena by defence planners, will involve about a third of Canada's army and make other major deployments during the coming year problematic if not impossible.
The mission in Kabul is also expected to be a dangerous one.
Maj.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the deputy commander of ISAF and the senior Canadian officer on the mission, has rated Operation Athena "a solid four" out of five, with five being all-out war.
More than 20 ISAF troops have been killed in the first 18 months of the force's mandate and their bases and patrols have come under periodic, but growing, rocket, bomb and mortar attacks.
This weekend, eight rockets landed near a U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan, causing minimal damage and no casualties, and another rocket was found at the former Soviet air base of Bagram, just north of Kabul.
In another attack Saturday, a bomb blew up about 50 metres in front of a convoy of Italian soldiers in the Gardez area, southeast of Kabul.
Lt.-Col. Denne said every member of the Canadian battle group is aware of the potential danger.
Source: Chris Wattie CanWest News